Ghana: Football Our National Pride

BLACK STARSThat Ghana prides itself as one of the best football nations in the world and as such, should guard jealously against this national pride is not an understatement. Besides, it is trite that football is the most popular and treasured sport all over the globe as it is now seen as the most effective political weapon internationally.

This proposition was exemplified in the 1960s when the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), now African Union (AU) was born in 1963. There arose a deep sense of interest among the nations of Africa in which the political use of football came to the front burner.

In those days, whenever the national teams of countries met, be it a cup-tie or a friendly, what was at stake was national pride and this demanded of the players, the greatest responsibility of ensuring that they won the match.
In the First Republic, the nation had in place a permanent national team the members of whom were paid to train and play for the nation anytime the need arose. These were the likes of Baba Yara, Wilberforce Mfum and Osei Kofi; Mr Ohene Gyan was the Director of the Central Organization of Sports in the 1960s.

In those days the stakeholders in the football sector new no difference between a World Cup qualifier and a friendly match. Every match between Ghana and another country was handled with all the seriousness it deserved to make sure Ghana won because of our national pride.

This is why it is difficult to accept the allegation that Black Stars coach, Kwesi Appiah, left out captain Asamoah Gyan, Andre Ayew, Micheal Essien, Mubarak Wakaso, Emmanuel Agyemang Badu and Prince Kevin-Boateng from the “friendly” match with Japan on Tuesday September 10, in Yokohama in order to observe ‘fringe’ members of the team ahead of the playoffs next month.

Could he have justifiably used that match to experiment because “to build a team, it is important to play against top teams as Japan?.

That was a match Japan featured all her top international stars like Shinji Kagawa and Honda because Japan believed that every match that is arranged by FIFA should be taken with all seriousness. As it were, the match was watched live globally while Japan humbled Ghana by three goals to one.

The whole world longed to watch the match, considering that the Black Stars had humbled loudmouthed Zambia in Kumasi by two goals to one, just four days earlier.

The result of that so-called friendly match did not only bruise our ego as Ghanaians but also cut short the joy the celebration and the pride with which Ghanaians had clothed themselves when the Stars silenced Zambia. One needed to step outside, minutes after the match to see the sunken, lone-drawn and sorrowful looks of Ghanaians yet Black Stars coach, Kwesi Appiah “was very positively impressed by the performance of the players; they all did well”.

The lesson that should be learnt from the Yokohama debacle is that every match organised by FIFA carries weight and should not be treated with levity. It has to be drummed up that football is now much more than just a game or sport. It has become the most effective political weapon and politicians have been exploiting sports, particularly football, to achieve what they could not achieve through political dialectics. Some countries do propaganda to cement cordial relations, using sports namely football. It is currently going on between North and South Korea.

Above all, football is the global game that most people love to see and any attempt by the handlers of the Black Stars to experiment with a class of players away from the Ghana Black Starts in an international match of whatever category under the guise of observing “fringe” members of the team, may tend to be devastating and catastrophic for the nation politically, economically and socially and for our pride as a football nation.

Obviously, this was why President Mahama reportedly got involved in the efforts to get our experienced stars abroad to return to Ghana to participate in the crucial match against Zambia. A short trip down memory lane will suffice to show the extent to which football at the international level has gone.

In 1969, two Latin American countries – El Salvador and Honduras went to war over a football match that left thousands of civilians dead. The two countries were in the middle of a three-game match to qualify for the World Cup. Fights broke out and fans were injured. Honduras broke diplomatic relations with El Salvador and El Salvador invaded Honduras. Before the war, tensions were high between the duo on economic and immigration issues.

In the 1990s Columbia’s defender, Andres Escobar was short and killed on his return home after scoring a 34 minute own-goal in a crucial FIFA World Cup qualifier against the United States of America, USA. The goal signaled the death knell for Colombia’s hopes of qualification.

Just last Thursday, September, 4 2013, there was wild celebration in Kabul and elsewhere in Afghanistan as they fired gunshots into the air following a 2-0 victory over India in the South Asian Football Federation Championship where Afahans of all ages hit the streets in pride. President Hamid Karzai greeted the team at Kabul airport, hugging the players. The victory was said to be the country’s first event international championship in the sport.

These days, every nation including those with a population of about 500,000, play football and would want to use it to romp into global reckoning. Ghana’s case would not be an isolated one.

Now that Ghana has been pegged against Egypt in the play-offs for qualification into the 2013 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, and having learnt our lessons from the “friendly” international match against Japan, the handlers of the Black Stars should be open enough to apply the common dictum that only the best is good enough for Ghana.

Let it be known that we are the Black Stars because we were the first to gain independence from Britain, our colonial rulers in March 1957 and the first to be a Republic in 1960. Let it be known that we are the Black Stars because we were the first black African nation to occupy a seat on non- permanent basis in the United Nations Security Council from October 30 to 1961 to 1965 with Dr. Alex Quaison-Sackey, as our representative.

Let it be known that we are the Black Stars because we were the first black African nation to have its citizen elected as the Secretary General of the United Nations in the person of Mr. Kofi Annan. Let it be known that we are the Black Stars because we were the first African nation to win the African Nations Cup, four times in 1963, 1975, 1978 and 1982. Let it be known that we are the Black Stars because we were the first African nation to win the FIFA Junior World Cup (2009). - James Dadzie

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